Monday, December 26, 2011

GOP Candidates Lambaste Abortion at Des Moines Forum

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On December 14th, Citizens United (yes, that Citizens United) hosted an anti-abortion forum for GOP presidential candidates in Des Moines, Iowa. The forum featured regional anti-abortion speakers as well as four Republican presidential candidates: Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann, Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. To boot, the event introduced the anti-abortion film The Gift of Life, the brainchild of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee produced by Citizens United. As expected, the forum featured familiar rhetoric about the sanctity of life, coupled with disturbing vows to cut funding to Planned Parenthood and erect anti-abortion policies.

The first speaker appearing in C-SPAN's coverage was Jenifer Bowen, executive director of Iowa Right to Life. With a basket of dolls in tow, Bowen devoted much of her speech to demonizing Planned parenthood for allowing "webcam" abortions, or the use of telemedicine to connect doctors and patients over long distances for the purpose of providing mifepristone (formerly known as RU-486). As a June 2010 article in the New York Times explains, the use of telemedicine to provide mifepristone makes abortion available in communities where abortion providers are not available. Bowen, however, was disgusted by the idea, insisting that the medical director of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland "dismembers our Iowa babies alive." Bowen lambasted the use of the drug, which she described as a substance that "starves" an unborn fetus and allegedly traumatizes women because they're left to deal with a "dead baby" alone.

Next to speak was Bob Vander Plaats, president of the Family Leader. Vander Plaats told the story of his sisters' unplanned fourth pregnancy, and her distraught telephone call to their mother. According to his story, their mother urged her to keep the baby, saying, "We didn't want Bob either ... Now what would life be without him?"

Vander Plaats insisted that all people are special because they are made in the image of God. God has a plan for all lives, he argued, and humans thwart God's plan when they decide when life can begin or end. Candidates, office-holders, families, and society must embrace the sanctity of life, he told listeners, insisting that we cannot expect God's richest blessings if we get this issue wrong. At the 9:25 mark, he referred to the Founding Fathers to defend his anti-abortion stance.
"Our founders and our framers, they listed life as the first of the inalienable rights. Why? Because that's how important it is. Life was first, before liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It was the number one. It was life."
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The first presidential candidate to speak was Rep. Michele Bachmann, who called abortion the "seminal issue of our time." At the 15:44 mark, she depicted anti-abortion activists as the alleged victims of indifferent politicians.
"Too often, those of us who have called ourselves pro-life have found ourselves on the receiving end from politicians where they tell us they're going to do something, and why is it that it's the pro-lifers who always end up being told to stand against the wall, maybe later we'll get to your issue. I'm here to tell you tonight, as president of the United States, pro-lifers will never again be sent to stand against the wall. We will advance the cause of life in my administration."
Bachmann insisted that the chief way to advanced the anti-abortion cause was to repeal Obamacare, because it supposedly allows for taxpayer funded abortion. (Actually, President Obama signed an executive order in March 2010 maintaining the ban on use of federal funds for abortion in his healthcare law, except in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the life of the woman.)

Ridiculing President Obama as the "most pro-abortion president" in U.S. history, Bachmann also fumed that the president required private insurance companies to cover all contraceptives and emergency contraception, which she erroneously labeled the "morning-after abortion pill." She blasted the emergency contraceptive Plan B as a "three-day abortifacient," ignoring the fact that Plan B does not induce abortion, but rather prevents pregnancy from occurring. To boot, Bachmann lamented that Plan B would be sold in grocery stores "where little girls would find it next to bubble gum and next to M&Ms." (Actually, on December 7th, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius refused to allow Plan B to be sold over-the-counter, a decision that President Obama defended.)

Bachmann voiced her eagerness to repeal Obamacare and thus prevent Planned Parenthood from "essentially having an open field day in every public school classroom." In keeping with widespread anti-abortion activists' attacks on Planned Parenthood, she vowed that Planned Parenthood would be completely defunded under her presidential administration.

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Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich spoke after Rep. Bachmann, and he quickly resorted to his usual attacks on an amorphous "secular elite." At the 24:51 mark, he had this to say.
"We're engaged in a cultural struggle with a secular elite that believes that life is random and has no moral meaning. And the whole reasoning behind Roe v. Wade is a utilitarian, phony science reasoning that has collapsed under the weight of modern technology. And the fact is as the country became more and more aware of the meaning of Roe v. Wade, it has turned more and more against abortion, and this has been a cultural fight ... It goes to the heart of what it means to be an American."
Gingrich argued that the key to American exceptionalism lies in the Declaration of Independence, which asserts that all are created equal and endowed by the creator with inalienable rights. Rights come from God, he insisted, and thus no judge or authority can take them away. Defining when someone becomes a person is central to the issue of rights, and if the state declares when someone becomes a person, why would it stop with Roe v. Wade, he asked. Gingrich suggested that euthanasia and other dubious practices could result, making abortion the central moral question of the age.

Upon becoming president, Gingrich vowed to erect four anti-abortion policies: reinstate the Mexico City policy (also known as the Global Gag Rule), reinstate President Bush's "conscience policy" that would permit medical personnel to refuse to perform procedures on religious grounds, submit legislation to defund Planned Parenthood, and submit legislation defining personhood at conception.

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Next, Texas Governor Rick Perry spoke at the podium, acknowledging that "pocketbook issues" now dominate the public conversation and that unemployment and poverty are fomenting "great angst." Nevertheless, he asserted that conservatives cannot disengage from moral debates, for if they do, they neglect the nation's moral fiber. But aren't poverty and economic injustice moral issues? I thought.

Perry wondered out loud what the Founding Fathers would think of the U.S. now, as the country has supposedly drifted from the Founder's vision of life as an inalienable right. America, he argued, was founded on the idea that human life is sacred and must be protected.

Values are coming under attack, Perry said. He disapprovingly cited the Obama administration's rejection of federal financial aid to Catholic charities over their refusal to provide abortion services, as well as the administration's mandate that religious groups provide insurance coverage for their employees that covers abortion. (Actually, the Department of Health and Human Services' Affordable Care Act mandated insurance coverage for things such as contraception and contraceptive counseling, not abortion.)

Perry proudly boasted that he signed a Texas state budget that defunded Planned Parenthood, which was followed by the closure of twelve Texas Planned Parenthood clinics. In response to the federal government's claim that said defunding was a violation of federal law, Perry told the audience that, "if Washington D.C. is looking for a fight, they found one."

If elected president, Perry vowed to end taxpayer funded abortion "period," and to add a human life amendment to the U.S. constitution. Perry's promise to end the use of taxpayer funds for abortion confused me at first, given that the Hyde Amendment already stands. However, according to a fact sheet from the National Abortion Federation, the current form of the Hyde Amendment requires funding of abortion in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment. Does Perry wish to end funding for abortion under those circumstances too?

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The final candidate to speak was former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who told the audience that the 2012 election was the most important election of our time. After defending his credentials as a social conservative who has fought in the "trenches," Santorum vowed to defund Planned Parenthood and reinstate the Mexico City policy (Global Gag Rule) if elected president.

Stressing that family, freedom, and life are foundational issues, he claimed at the 42:46 mark that respect for life and the traditional family undergirds America's strength.
"We cannot be a strong country economically or any else. We cannot have limited government unless we are moral and decent people living out moral and decent lives, respecting life and embracing and supporting the American family. It is the bedrock. It is the bedrock of our economy. It is the bedrock of our country. It is the bedrock that allows limited government because when the family breaks down, and respect for life and moral values breaks down, then government gets bigger and bigger and bigger."
Santorum scoffed at the idea of a truce on social issues, pointing to abortion, funding for stem cell research, and same-sex marriage being "imposed" by courts across the country. "It is a surrender, not a truce, and under a Santorum presidency there will be no surrender," he emphasized.

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Predictably, speakers criticized abortion from multiple angles while avoiding discussions of why unintended pregnancies occur or how to prevent them. As with many issues, the candidates and their supporters cited the Founding Fathers and our founding documents to legitimize their views on abortion. Not surprisingly, several used the abortion issue as a means of condemning President Obama and an amorphous "secular elite." In short, the Des Moines forum featured familiar rhetoric from the more right-wing Republican candidates.

Amidst the candidates' often dubious claims and fiery rhetoric, several common themes came into focus: threats to defund Planned Parenthood, reinstate the Global Gag Rule, and pass policies that would make it even more difficult for American women to secure abortions. As the 2012 election inches closer, voters should reflect on these troubling vows and the impact they would have on women's reproductive health if Bachmann, Gingrich, Perry, or Santorum were elected president.

For additional commentary, visit the following links.

Salon: The Many Fictions of Huckabee's Abortion Forum

Talking Points Memo: GOPers Gather for Huckabee's Abortion Documentary

Los Angeles Times: Candidates tout antiabortion views before Iowa film premiere


  1. Anyone have any ideas for how we can get these people to care as passionately about those who have already been born and are struggling in the pursuit of life?

  2. Doug -- Beats me. Their concern for human life seems to decrease after birth.

  3. Ditto, Doug B. Also, I have a hard time understanding why a woman's right to control her own uterus has become (according to Perry) a key threat to our nation's "moral fiber."

  4. Donna -- Someone should tell Perry that taking away people's reproductive rights is far more immoral.

  5. My, you've been busy while I've been away from the blogging world, Ahab!

    These candidates live in their own little reality bubble - far from reality. Some of them actually believe what they're saying (Bachmann and probably Santorum) while the others are likely just hypocrites catering to their perceived fundie constituency.

    Nonetheless, this surge in anti-abortion rhetoric is very concerning to me. Life begins at conception? So no birth control pills? A woman who has been raped should not be further "traumatized" by an abortion? Sometimes I feel like I'm living in the 1950s.

  6. Cognitive Dissenter -- I've been on vacation this week, which has allowed me to catch up on my blogging.

    You're right on the money. Some of the more radical anti-abortion activists look askance at contraception, especially emergency contraception (i.e., Plan B). If the personhood people get their way, rape victims who become pregnant and women whose lives are endangered by their pregnancies could be put in a very bad position. If we value reproductive justice, we need to speak up.


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